Remember Life

DD has a goal for the summer:  climb as many 14ers as possible (this is a Colorado “thing”).  Last weekend she hiked four in one day: Democrat, Cameron (although it is not technically a true 14er), Lincoln, and Bross.  As she fulfills her bucket list, I think about my own list from when I was about her age.  There I was, backpacking through Europe during my junior year abroad, and ticking off as many countries and cities as I could visit on my 2-month Eurail Pass.  And let me tell you, you can hit quite a few cities if you are willing to sleep overnight on trains then run like mad from one famous site to the next.  Then repeat.

The smart phone makes it so easy for people to have pictorial evidence of their existence at any moment in time.  An actress once explained to an interviewer why she didn’t take selfies with fans:  Just because you don’t have a picture doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  I dragged a 35 mm Canon with multiple lenses around Europe, and I have hundreds of photographs of “can’t miss” places.  I have pictures of Lucerne and Zurich, and zero memories.  As in, I don’t even remember BEING there.  Just because I have pictures doesn’t mean it happened.

As I age, I worry more and more about the state of my mind.  Are these lapses in memory, lapses in my vocabulary, lapses in attention — are these significant?  Or has my brain in fact become more efficient at weeding out extraneous information?  This of course would be a much kinder interpretation.  I visit Tom Vander Well’s Wayfarer blog every now and then and come away inspired to change something in my life.  Today, the entry I read had to do with what we choose to focus on as we age (“Fixing Our Eyes on Life”).   Aside from the inherent optimism of choosing to focus on the life ahead, the message resonates with me as I watch my father dying in place.  His eyes are turned inward to all his memories of his parents (dead), his brothers and sisters (dead), Mom (dead), and finally to his own existence (what is the point?).

When DD was younger and we corrected her, she would try out some sort of explanation or excuse.  She then graduated to “I will do better,” and now she just says “Okay.”  I have no idea what “the point” is, but I keep trying.  Fixing our eyes on Life?  OK.

Anger Management


January 20, 2017

Optimism, in front of a non-denominational, non-profit community coffee house.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe it.  Not only do I not believe it, I am not sure it is all that helpful right now.  But that is because I continue to be angry.

My word for the year is SHOULD:  it is an insidious, neither here-nor-there sort of word, it commits you to nothing.  I should work on my anger.

On Carnival Barker’s inauguration day, I cleared dog poop along the trail.  Now, I do trail cleanup pretty much every day (my personal — if tiny — commitment to the environment), but it seemed especially appropriate that day.  It also seemed like there were even more piles than usual.  As I said, inauguration day.  And for a couple of hours, I did something more useful to me than inadequate messages of optimism:  I worked on my anger.

Letting Go, Again

I am very slow to acknowledge the end of a friendship.  I think I know what the other person is thinking or feeling, and of course I don’t know anything.  I attach different meanings to the silence, a very silly exercise in futility.  In my own life, I never say to someone, “I know how you feel,” because that phrase (along with “I will pray for you”) is both presumptuous and meaningless.  So why do I try to figure out why my friend is silent?

Martha and I met the first day of medical school over “Petunia,” our shared cadaver in gross anatomy lab.  She was older than the rest of us: she really had been at Woodstock, she had a daughter in grade school, and she was divorced.  She had done this and that, and finally ended up in medical school, determined to go into Ob/Gyn.  She was hard-working but not academically gifted, and spent part of the four years on probation.  But she did graduate, and we both ended up in New England for residency.

We bonded over Petunia and late-night study sessions and nasty attendings and nastier residents.  She was my best friend.  After medical school we managed to stay in touch through the occasional letters and emails, phone calls, and visits.  Then she stopped.  All my communications went unanswered for several years.  I did not know she had moved state again, that her email address had changed, that her phone number had changed.  But one day, she picked up her phone and actually answered the voice mail I had left awhile back wishing her a happy birthday.

We talked, and it was as though we picked up right where we left off.  She said she had been “very bad” about keeping in touch, and I did not push for a better explanation. Sometimes there just isn’t a better explanation, and if you don’t want a real answer, you shouldn’t ask.  But I confess I was hurt: she had managed to keep in touch with some of the other women in our medical school class, and in fact was renting a house with them for our class reunion.  Why was I not worthy?

She has stopped again.  It has been a year since I wrote to her, a year of silence.  I know where she is, I have her contact information.  I will be on a 2-week break near her neck of the woods, and I have been debating whether to try to get in touch with her.  Until today.  Today, my massage therapist (who is also a good friend and a very smart woman) told me something pretty simple: I cannot act based on how I think someone else will react.  Silence is just silence, but if I must have some sort of explanations, I should think about the nature of relationships and how people manage them: sometimes, the “I do not have the time” becomes “I cannot be bothered” becomes “I will not be bothered.”  The friendship is a burden and has been one for a long time, though I had been too obtuse to recognize it.  What I need to accept  is that I no longer serve any function in her life: she has others to love and care for, to love her and care for her.

I love The Parting Glass,  the traditional Irish farewell song.  So, in honor of what once was, I remember the best of times, and joy be with her always.

Reuse Reduce Recycle Project

One of those silly online quizzes (you know, something along the line of what color dog were you in a previous life?) tells me I have a “philosophical mind.”  I think what that means is that for more than half my life, I have been wondering what is my purpose in life.  On the down swing of bipolar, my purpose is negative:  I am trying NOT to leave the world in worst shape than it is right now, on a grey maybe-it-will-rain August afternoon.

For the past six weeks or so, I have been on the R³ kick, although what I am actually doing is trying my damnedest to control my environment.  It began because I realized what I most wanted out of my new house is an empty house — but clearly that cannot be, because I need a bed, and clothes, and kitchen stuff, and bathroom stuff, and and and . . .  So the next best thing is to declutter.  We (this includes DH and The Teenager) have been giving away/throwing away at least one item a day, although we tend to count groups of items as one item (a set of towels, a group of figurines, that stack of technical papers from 20 years ago).  The surprise is how easy it has been.  The other surprise is that though we have reduced and recycled so much (well, we think it’s much), it is invisible.  The Teenager’s room is still cluttered, DH’s office looks about the same, I have way too many books and clothes and doodads, and we still have too much furniture.

So what is the Big Picture?

I moved to college with five boxes of belongings.  I moved to graduate school with eight boxes in my little Toyota Corolla (back when the Corolla truly was a compact car).  We now have five dining tables.  Does anyone need five dining tables?  In our defense, three of those tables function as desks, one is a sewing table, and one actually is a dining table.  But still . . .  Then I had a moment of clarity when I was reading an article about a man who bought a 700 square foot house, and immediately started making a list of “cannot live without” things.  As it turned out, there were even more items on the “cannot live without” list that he could in fact live without.

If my purpose is what I think it is, then it should not be easy.  When our neighbor moved out, she rented a dumpster, and managed to empty it twice with all the things she needed during her life in that house.  I am trying to avoid that last-ditch dumpster dump, but not sure if I will succeed.  So everyday, I continue to look at my belongings:  Why are you in my life?  How much “stuff” do I need to remind me of who I am?

Tula, who is pretty sure she does NOT need a ribbon

Tula, who is pretty sure she does NOT need a ribbon

Happy Birthday, Tina

We met in cooking class, back when girls took a year of Home Economics in 7th grade.  It was the first day of junior high.  We were not in the same kitchen group, but we nevertheless developed an understanding that we were the smartest people in the class.  Over the next year or so we became friends, then best friends.  We did not share too many classes (she was not good at math), but I think we took all our English courses together and I thought she was an amazingly creative writer.

We went to the same high school, and that was when our paths started to diverge.  She was not going to a top-ten college, but that was never her goal.  She was going to get her English degree, drive around in a little red Honda Civic, and not get married or have children.  But mainly she was going to move East (she liked the idea of Boston) and do freelance writing while working on her Great American Novel.

I acquired a boyfriend she was not crazy about, and in retrospect she may have been right about that.  We (boyfriend and I, that is) were way too smart for our own good, and we knew it.  It was going to take a couple more decades to mature into those brains, luckily for us I think we did manage it.  But in the meantime, she felt left out — and she was.  Teenagers are remarkably dense about friendships, and I did not know the first thing about how to nurture girlfriend bonds.

Nevertheless, we stayed in touch enough so that she was my MOH at my wedding.  I knew almost nothing about her life.  I had not seen her for many months before the wedding, and when I saw her, she had a geometrical-punk haircut with most of her short hair swept off to one side, with the other side shorn down to about an inch.  My mother was appalled, but surprisingly enough did not say anything other than note that it was an interesting style.

For many years she would call me on my birthday — it was our once-a-year talk — because my birthday is 6 days before hers.  We would catch up, and for those thirty minutes or so, I remembered being sixteen years old and talking on the phone every night, even though we had been at school together earlier in the day.

I last saw her 10 years ago; she was going through a difficult time, but did not, or could not, talk more about it.  And why would she?  We were strangers to each other.  In a reversal, I became the one to call her on her birthday, but I should have known that really, she wanted to cut all ties.  She never told me her new phone numbers, new addresses, new emails …  so finally I knew.  This morning I was scrolling through my phone list, and I saw her name.  I called, and got a “disconnected” message.   No surprise.  Today I deleted her name.  Today is her birthday.

Happy Birthday, Tina.

Mountain Happiness

A few days ago, I watched one of Stanford University’s “Classes Without Quizzes,” programs offered during Reunion Weekends for alumni, sometimes by alumni.  Fred Luskin (Ph.D. 1999), director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, gave a talk on “The Science of Happiness.”  Despite the title, the talk was short on science, but nevertheless was interesting and — dare I say it — useful.  An example Luskin gave:  you walk into a coffee bar, and instead of buying into the marketing message that happiness is in a perfect cup of coffee, you say to yourself, “Wow, how cool is it that I live in a country, in a city, in a neighborhood, where I can have my choice of 40 different types of coffee drinks!”

I thought about Fred Luskin’s message as I walked around Estes Park this morning, searching for a cup of latte.  As the 40 mph gusts nearly blew me over, I knew I was the crazy incognito woman (face mask! hood! double gloves!) wandering up and down the main drag, travel mug in hand.  Caffee Collage, closed Monday to Wednesday in the winter.  Kind Coffee, closed for remodelling until tomorrow.  Red Cup Paperie and Coffee Bar (home of delicious pastries, formerly Long’s Peak Coffee and Paper House, formerly MacDonald Papeterie when it was sort of associated with MacDonald Bookshop, which is still in business) had a hand-printed sign proclaiming December hours as open daily at 9 AM — but clearly not open today.  Finally, I pulled into Summitview Coffee, home of the Chicken Fried Latte® — but as the owner assured me, it’s just a goofy name for a blended drink and has nothing to do with chicken, fried or otherwise.  Happiness this morning: I got to be in Estes Park (Highway 34 is open, and weather be damned), and I had a choice of all these coffee places to patronize.  And not once did I feel thwarted.


Not My Business

New Year’s resolutions, a month early.

I had a moment yesterday morning in the laundry room: The Teenager had stacked the wet workout clothes from the night before on top of the washer.  The clothes were still wet, of course, but one had to admire the neatness of the stacking job.  She had apparently “forgotten” to hang them up.  I love the all-purpose teenage excuse of “I Forgot.”  I lost my temper, and just as quickly regretted losing my temper — not because she didn’t deserve the tongue lashing, but because I had wasted my breath.

And then there is DH, who had a plan called Thirty in Thirty (that would be thirty pounds weight loss in thirty weeks).  Among other changes, he is trying to reduce the amount of carbohydrates (from grains) in his meals, but changes are difficult because DH is also something of an expert at self-sabotage.  This morning, we came back from breakfast, and he had an early (as in, less than 90 minutes between meals) lunch of two servings of cereal.  Me, in the background, rhetorical question: “Is that cereal?  Is that a second bowl of cereal?”

Yes, I wasted my breath on that one too.

If I truly believe that the only thing I have control over is what I do, then I need to stop having futile expectations.  Or expectations in general, because expectations are always in the future.  I cannot expect “reasonable” behavior from The Teenager, because she is indeed a teenager, and everyone knows “reasonable” and “teenager” do not mix.  But the act of expecting does not change just because my daughter is a teenager, and my husband is not.  Ultimately, his diet or her silliness are not my business.

This is the year I learn to make myself quiet.